States report close race prompting high turnout

By LEIGH STROPE

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – A too-close-for-comfort presidential race prodded voters across the country to the polls today, with many states reporting long lines and predicting high turnout.

Some voters said they thought they mattered for the first time.

“It was no concern until now,” said Angela Smith, 22, walking out of Allegheny County Election Court in Pennsylvania. “But it’s so close now that I had to register. I’m really for Al Gore. I think he’s the man for all the people, and this time my vote will make a difference.”

In 1996, about 49 percent of those old enough to vote cast ballots – the lowest turnout since 1924. Though the election was expected to be the closest presidential race in 40 years, analysts had said they didn’t expect turnout to be appreciably higher.

But some thought massive get-out-the-vote efforts in battleground states, combined with the tight race, would push turnout up slightly from 1996.

Fear of a George W. Bush presidency motivated Dimondale, Mich., resident Sharon Gordon out of her bed with the flu and to the voting booth.

“I came out here because I didn’t like how things were going,” she said of the tight election.

Bad weather threatened turnout in some states, including New Mexico, where up to a foot of snow prevented poll workers from getting to their posts and snowplows were sent out to deliver ballots. Some New Mexico precincts had no electricity though voting machines had backup batteries. But poll workers and voters were forced to use lighters to see.

Some South Dakota schools canceled or delayed classes because of near-blizzard conditions, which had surprisingly little effect on turnout in Hughes County, said county Auditor Shellie Baker.

“It is blizzarding here. The visibility is bad. But our precinct at the courthouse has been busy all morning and they had a line when we opened,” Baker said.

Casting a vote that could determine the next president is a heavy burden to carry. That’s why Barbara Garwood didn’t decide who to vote for until she walked into the polling booth in Orlando, Fla. She voted for Bush.

“When in doubt, I vote Republican,” she said.

At a recreation center in Land O’Lakes, Fla., more than 600 people voted immediately after the polls opened at 7 a.m.

“I’ve never seen it like this before – not even the last presidential election,” said Bob Trainor, an elections inspector at the same polling place for five years.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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